§ Resolution reported,
§ "That, for carrying out the provisions of any Act of the present Session to amend the Law relating to the occupation and ownership of land in Ireland, it is expedient—
- (a) To authorise the creation of a new capital stock for raising any money required for the Irish Land Purchase Fund (including the Land Purchase Aid Fund), and the temporary borrowing of any such money by bills or bonds, and to charge on the Consolidated Fund in certain contingencies the payment of the dividends on the new Stock, and the payment of the interest, and the repayment of the principal of any such bills or bonds;
- (b) To remove the limit on the total sums to be paid out of the Land Purchase Aid Fund;
- (c) To authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament, in certain contingenicieis, of deficiencies that may arise on the Irish Land Purchase Fund and the Guarantee Fund, and to make provision for payment, out of moneys provided by Parliament, on the exhaustion of the Reserve Fund, or the Ireland Development Grant, of sums for purposes for which provision would otherwise have been made out of that fund or grant;
- (d) To authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of an
750 annual sum to the Congested Districts Board for Ireland and to the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland;
- (e) To authorise the National Debt Commissioners to make advances in certain cases to the Land Commission."
§ Mr. JOHN DILLON
Before you put the Motion, I wish to claim permission to move to re-commit this Resolution, for the purpose of inserting a sub-section authorising the raising of money required by Irish land purchase; by the issue of 2½ per cent. Consolidated Stock. In asking permission to re-commit the Resolution, I wish to say that I am very doubtful whether it is necessary to do so or not. I suppose it would be perfectly in order to move the insertion of this provision in the Resolution on Report. I only ask permission to re-commit the Resolution should it be ruled out of order to do so on Report. I may say, without entering into the subject at this stage, that I am prepared to argue this question on the ground that it is not an addition to the public burden but a distinct lessening of the public burden, and that so far from an addition there would be no possibility by this provision of adding to the public funds or the burdens of the taxpayers. I also believe that without this amendment of the Resolution two Amendments which I have on the Bill would be ruled out of order, which is undoubtedly a case of inadvertence, because we were given to understand distinctly by the Government that the Resolution was drawn in terms so wide as to cover all the points we desired to raise. This action is simply a case of compulsion.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member wishes to move to re-commit this Resolution for the purpose of moving some Amendment to it. In the first place, I am very doubtful whether, under the Resolution as passed, it is possible to move to re-commit this Resolution; but, putting that aside, and supposing that it were possible to re-commit it, what is the object of re-committal? The object of recommittal is that the hon. Member for East Mayo may do something to the Resolution which he cannot do on Report. It appears to me that practically the same rule must operate with regard to this as with regard to a Supply Resolution at this stage, namely, that you cannot recommit in order to increase the burden to the public Exchequer. If you want to diminish the burden you ought to do that on Report, and no re-committal becomes 751 necessary. I understand that the purpose of the hon. Member for East Mayo is that an additional amount of Consols shall be raised for the purpose of meeting the requirements of the Irish Land Act. How can the hon. Member move to insert a proposal of that kind? That surely must come from the Government, because it imposes a charge on the national Exchequer. If it imposes a charge on the national Exchequer, or the possibility of a charge on the national Exchequer, that charge can only be proposed by a Member of the Government, and not by a private Member. Therefore no object is served by re-committing this Resolution. I am afraid equally, following the same reasoning, that when we come to the Amendments of the hon. Member for East Mayo, I shall have to rule them out of order on the ground chat they impose an additional charge on the national Exchequer.
§ Mr. JOHN DILLON
May I say on that point I think I shall be able to convince you that what I propose does not impose any charge on the national Exchequer, but, on the contrary, can only operate, in so far as it operates at all, to relieve the national Exchequer. My Amendment is not a direction to the Government to issue Consols, but it is only an option to issue Consols if, in their judgment, by so doing the charge on the national Exchequer will be lightened. It gives the power of the option or alternative to issue 2½ per cent, rather than to issue 3 per cent, or 2¾ per cent., which they have already. Under this Resolution, whether they issue 2¾ or 3 per cent., or whether they issue bills or bonds to provide this money, under each form of this issue there must fall a liability on the national Exchequer, and the ultimate liability must be on the Exchequer. Therefore my proposition does not entail the raising of any fresh sum of money. It is only an alternative method as to the sum of money which is authorised to be raised by the Resolution as it stands. I am prepared to argue, if allowed to move—and I gather from your ruling I may be allowed to move on the Report Stage—that this Motion has for its object to reduce the burden on the national Exchequer and to offer an option to the Treasury. Under the ruling you have just given I ought to be permitted to move on the Report Stage.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I would like to confirm what the hon. Member for East Mayo has just said. As I understand, the object of the hon. Member is to give to the 752 Government the option of raising this sum, which they intend to raise for the payment of Irish land advances, by Consols instead of by the form of 2¾ or 3 per cent. Stock. May I very humbly venture to point out that that will diminish the charge on the ratepayers for a great many reasons. Consols and 2½ per cent. Stock stand at 84, and 2¾ per cent. Stock stands at 85.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The point of order is this: Has the hon. Member for East Mayo got the King's Recommendation? If he has not got the King's Recommendation he cannot propose a charge.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is a matter for argument. The hon. Member for East Mayo may very well say that, instead of creating this Stock, a much simpler way is to raise further Consols, That is very good by way of argument, but when it comes to increasing the amount of Consols, where is the signification of the King's Recommendation? In other words, it can only be done by a Member of the Government. Neither the Motion to re-commit, nor the Amendments of which the hon. Member for East Mayo has given notice, are consequently in order. Both the argument which underlies the proposition of the hon. Member and his desired action are very proper to use in arguing upon the Resolution.
§ Mr. JOHN REDMOND
May I be allowed to ask whether under the circumstances a way out of the difficulty could not be found by the Amendment being moved by a Member of the Government? The object of this Resolution is to authorise the raising of a certain sum of money. We do not propose anything in the alternative scheme to increase the money that is to be raised. I do not know whether the Government are going to accept our Amendment or not. In any case, it is one of those important points which the Committee ought to be allowed to discuss.
It is one of those points which we understand clearly, in the discretion of the Government, would not be impeded by the terms of this Resolution. We understood that the Resolution would be drafted in as wide a manner as possible in order to allow this Question to be raised. I ask the Government to take steps that will prevent us from being shut out from discussing this most important alternative proposal.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I will call upon the hon. Member for the City of London to move his Amendment. It will permit the point raised by the hon. Member for Waterford to be discussed.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I beg to move to omit paragraph (a). I believe the Government already have the power that this paragraph gives them. My real objection to this paragraph is that it gives the Government power to issue a new capital stock. I do not believe, in the interests of finance, that that is the proper course for the Government to pursue. If this paragraph is carried the Government will be empowered to issue a new form of stock, namely, a 3 per cent. Stock, which I understand it is proposed to issue, at par. That would create two sorts of Irish Land Stock. For over 35 years my business was dealing with finance, with stocks and shares in the City. I challenge anyone to deny that the whole aim and object of the best managed financial companies, and large companies in London, has been, not to multiply varieties of stock, but, on the contrary, to consolidate all their stock into one single account. Every single railway, from the London and North-Western Railway to the smallest in the Kingdom, has for the last 20 years been following that policy. It was a policy initiated by the late Lord Goschen—then Mr. Goschen—with regard to Government Stock, when, in 1888, he took the three forms of Government Stock, Consols, New Three Per Cents., and Reduced Three Per Cents., and consolidated them into New Consols. That is the policy, I venture to say, the Government should pursue, and it is the policy which in the long run will be most beneficial to the Irish Members, the Irish people, and the taxpayers of this country. May I point out that at the present moment Consols stand in round figures at 84. Irish Land Stock stands at 85½. The interest which the taxpayer pays on the one is 2¾ per cent, on the nominal amount, and on the other 2½ per cent. He is paying 5s. more for every £100 of Irish Land Stock than he would for Consols. That 5s., if saved, would go far to meet the difference in regard to the loss on the Sinking Fund, which has exercised such a bad effect upon the Irish Land Purchase Act. It may be held that if you issue Consols you will depress them. That is true to a certain extent. But the same thing follows with the issue of Irish Land Stock. Further—and this is a very important point that I 754 would like to urge upon the right hon. Gentleman—the issue of Irish Land Stock will itself depress Consols. It induces people to sell Consols and to buy Irish Land Stock because of its greater return. May I draw the attention of the House and the right hon. Gentleman to these words in the paragraph I propose to omit: "and to charge on the Consolidated Fund in certain contingencies the payment of the dividends on the new stock and the payment of the interest, and the repayment of the principal of any such bills or bonds." Now that is a fixed obligation for the payment of the interest and the repayment of the stock upon the Consolidated Fund upon which Consols are charged, and therefore the point is this, that there is no difference under this programme between the liability of the taxpayer for Consols and the liability of the taxpayer for Irish Land Stock. I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he were desirous of borrowing money and went to a moneylender, and the moneylender said, "I will lend you money at £2 15s. per cent, on one portion of your estate and £2 10s. per cent, on another," what would the right hon. Gentleman say? Of course, he would take the £2 10s. loan. I am quite aware the Runciman Report differed from that, and said there was a difference of security in the two stocks. I deny there is a difference. The security of both stocks is identically the same, the liability of the taxpayer is the same. The credit of the taxpayer is pledged to both stocks, and it seems to me to be the worst possible finance to compel the taxpayer to pay more interest than he ought to. I have said enough to show that there are really serious reasons for omitting this paragraph and for allowing the Government an opportunity of taking the course recommended to them by the hon. Member for East Mayo. I beg to move.
§ Mr. JOHN DILLON
I rise to second this Amendment, which happily allows us, at least, to lay our views before the House upon this exceedingly important matter. I think it is a very great pity that the Government has not given us the opportunity of recording our opinions in the Division Lobby upon the matter. I confess it seems to me it is partly owing to the fact that they really have no argument at all to answer our contention. I want first of all to draw the attention of hon. Members to the admirable statement 755 made by the hon. Baronet who has just spoken, and which makes my task so much easier. I want to draw attention to the important consideration that this is a very large operation. We are dealing with an operation involving £100,000,000. Under the present system you are losing £8 on every £100 you raise by issuing Irish Land Stock instead of Consols. £8 per cent, on £100,000,000 is £8,000,000 of money. Therefore, if the markets remain as they are at present you are without the shadow of a reason throwing away £8,000,000. There is strong ground for saying that, so far as the correlative prices of the stock is concerned, they will remain the same; and, supposing they do remain in that proportion, you are throwing away this £8,000,000, I want to draw the attention of the House to the state of the Money Market. The hon. Baronet has already pointed out that at the present moment—I take the quotation from "The Times" of to-day—the making-up price of 2½ per cent. Consols is 84⅞; the making-up price of 2¾ per cent. Irish Land Stock is 85. So that there is only ⅛ per cent, difference, and that has been arrived at by a long process of steady fall in the Irish Stock. When you examine the returns for some months, as I have done, of Irish Stock as quoted, there is a continual drop, so that the quotation is not merely an unusual fluctuation of the market, but a steady adjustment of prices, which has been going on for months; and to-day you have this extraordinary state of things that these two stocks, which have precisely the same security behind them—if there is any difference at all, it is in favour of Irish Sitock, which has the whole security of the land behind it—after the years Irish Stock has been on the market, it has adjusted itself to a price which is ⅛ above the price of Consols, although it carries a 5s. per cent, larger interest. What is the difference that ought to exist between these two stocks at par. Irish Stock should stand at £8 10s. over Consols, but the actual difference is one-eighth. You lose with the issue of stocks upon this gigantic undertaking £8 upon every £100 you raise. Having established that, I first of all challenge the Government to produce their arguments, which up to the present they have not done. They must be very strong arguments to justify the throwing away of £8,000,000 on a great transaction of this kind. Let me deal with the only two argu- 756 ments that have been used. One is that the issue of Consols would lower the price of Consols, and the other is that this security ought to be reserved for a great national emergency. I think those two arguments are absolutely futile and preposterous. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London told us that the issue of Irish Land Stock carrying a larger interest would have more effect in lowering, the price of Consols than the issue of Consols. If there is one principle better known than another, it is this: that when you are dealing with these large money operations the smaller the amount of the stock the more it is affected by a fresh issue. Where you have a stock of £500,000,000 or £600,000,000, like Consols, it is like pouring water into a great reservoir. If you pour water into a small bath it will quickly rise to the level, but if you pour it into a great reservoir it will take a great deal to make it rise to the level. The same principle applies to operations in regard to stock. If you have a vast stock reaching £500,000,000 or £600,000,000, it takes a very large issue to affect the price of that stock. I am absolutely certain that the effect, so far as the lowering of the price of Consols is concerned by the issue of 3 or 2¾ per cent. Stock, would be greater than by the issuing of Consols. I challenge the Government to take the opinion of any of the great associations in the City on this particular question. If that be so, and I believe it is—and I doubt if the Government are prepared to resist that view—can it be contended for a single moment that the way suggested is the proper way to raise this money? We are told that this security must be reserved for a great emergency. I have two replies to make to that argument. The first is that this question of settling the Irish land question is a matter of great emergency. Surely the people of this country would never have consented to pledge their credit by the issue of Irish Land Stock to the extent of nearly £200,000,000 if they had not regarded it as a great national interest and a great national emergency. My second answer is that really I regard all this talk about reserving Consols for a great national emergency as mere quackery and hypocrisy. By this course you are endeavouring to throw dust in the eyes of the investing public to blind them, but the investing public are too cute, and will not be blinded, because they know every stock which is guaranteed by the Consolidated Fund is a pledge of the credit of this country quite as much as Consols. The 757 state of the Money Market shows that this policy affects the market more than Consols, because there is an uneasy feeling abroad that there is not this security behind this stock. The result is that except in the case of the investors who are well informed and go about the market looking for the best securities, this stock has fallen in the extraordinary way we have seen. Let us look at the history of this case, and let me recall the attention of the House to the fact that this is the first time in the whole history of Irish land purchase in which it has been proposed to finance Irish land purchase with stock bearing a higher rate of interest than the ordinary Consolidated Stock. In the days of the Ashbourne Acts, under which many millions of Irish Land Stock were issued, the money was always raised by Consols, which was then the ordinary method of finance. The first departure from that system was under Mr. Balfour's Act of 1891, when it was proposed to pay the landlords in stock and not in cash, and it was only on that ground this proposal was made, and they set up a separate stock. That was the rule until we came to the Act of 1896, when there was an option given to the landlords to be paid in stock. In 1903 the system of payment in cash was renewed, but even in that year I myself proposed that there should be a 2½ per cent. Stock issued on the principle that we should always keep the interest on Irish Land Stock at the same rate as on the general Consolidated Stock of the United Kingdom. But for reasons then put forward the stock was maintained at 2¾ per cent., which was then the interest on Consols, although that year the interest fell to 2½ per cent. This system was started in 1903, and we should always remember that the whole history of land purchase in Ireland is against this system. We have now had six years' experience of it, and that experience has been more and more disastrous the longer it has been tried, and it has come to the point that now on every £100 we are now losing £8. I will take for a moment or two the Runciman Report. What I want to draw attention to in that Report is that—almost all the suggestions which have been put before us by various witnesses have, in one form or another, contained the view that the requisite cash should be raised by the issue: of Consols rather than of Guaranteed 2¾ per cent. Stock. Several reasons have been advanced for this suggestion, and in view of the unanimity with which they have been put forward we thought it incumbent upon us to have them examined with considerable care.Again and again we pressed the Government to publish the evidence of that Com- 758 mission, but they obstinately refused to do so. The Report goes on to say:—It is contended that Consols command a relatively higher price than any other security, and comparison is made between them and Guaranteed 2¾ per cent. Stock, showing that, notwithstanding the greater interest paid by the latter stock, its price has recently been within a point of that of Consols, whereas the true difference between them, if the yield is to be the same is over eight points with Consols at 85.In the first place, it must be remembered that Consols are the debt of the British Exchequer, whereas the Guaranteed Stock is primarily secured upon the Irish Land Purchase Fund.Was there ever heard anything more preposterous?It ranks with all the other loans guaranteed by the British Government, and is classed among the contingent liabilities of the State, but is not shown in its debts.I say it ought to be shown, and this is a very poor system of finance.It might indeed be held to be worth while to incur this risk if any commensurate reduction in the charges for land purchase were thereby assured. We are not, however, convinced that this would be the case.This brings me to a fresh illustration which I think is an extremely strong point. I want to show how this will work out. One of the great changes made was the payment in stock instead of in cash. There are two different forms of payment in stock, but I will deal with the form provided for in Clause 3, under which it is optional for the landlord to accept payment in stock. The provisions of Clause 3 practically mean that the landlord loses £7 in every £100. I intend to propose an Amendment that the landlord should have the, option of taking his payment in stock or Consols at 84 on the same terms as he is offered Government Stock here at 92. The result would be that in the present state of the money market you would be able to pay the landlord in Consols and lose nothing. If you pay him in Irish Land Stock on the terms put here, the landlord would lose a very large sum of money. The Treasury are prepared to lose £8, and if you pay by Consols, whilst the Treasury would lose the same amount, the landlords would not by any means lose so much. The proposal I make would, in my opinion, save an enormous amount of money in carrying through this operation, and would ease the operation to a great extent. It would add no burden to the British Treasury, and in my opinion—and in this matter I have the support of most of the experts—instead of depressing the Consols market it would lift off that market what acts like a wet blanket, that is, the issue of Irish Stock bearing a larger interest and selling almost at the same price as Consols. I therefore strongly urge upon the Government 759 to enable us to take a clear issue on this matter, and to give the House the opportunity of recording its opinion on the relative merit of paying for land purchase by the issue of Consols and the issue of new Irish Land Stock.
§ Mr. J. S. AINSWORTH
I would like to urge the Government to take the proposal of the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon) under their serious consideration, and, if they do not feel able to give any pledge, as we can well understand they may not be able to do in the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I hope they will be able to say that we shall have a statement, on the subject shortly, and that they will take the matter into favourable consideraion. I have always considered, and I think the House is now beginning to see, that the financial question in connection with the purchase of Irish land is the biggest which has ever been brought before the House. It is quite evident a very much larger sum than was at first anticipated will be required, and it is also evident, when we are face to face with raising a sum of money of this kind, every means open to the Government to raise it on the easiest possible terms should be taken. I cannot see why the Government should not take every possible means of raising the money in every way that may prove convenient to themselves and advantageous to the money market. I certainly agree with the hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) that it is a great mistake to multiply the number of different stocks unless they are issued for any particular reason. It always seems to me it would be a good thing to take the power to issue 3 per cent. Stock. It would enable the Government to offer it to mortgagees in payment of their claims. It certainly stands to reason if you can raise money cheaply by issuing Land Stock you ought to do so, because you are saving money and benefiting everybody. You get cash more easily and you are in a better position to deal with the Treasury as may be most convenient to them. I sincerely hope we shall have an answer from the Treasury, and that, if they cannot accept the proposal which is before the House now, they will undertake that we shall have a definite answer on the subject in a very short space of time.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Charles Hobhouse)
I can assure the hon. Gentleman the 760 Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon) that the view he holds—though I am not quite sure whether he expressed it—that the Treasury, in feeling them selves unable to accept the proposals which he has outlined to the House, are animated by considerations other than those which might be referred to as the purely financial results, is without foundation, because in this question we are really animated purely and wholly—
§ Mr. DILLON
The right hon. Gentleman is entirely under a misapprehension. I strongly hold that the financial views of the Treasury are entirely mistaken.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I only want to make it quite clear that we are animated in this matter by nothing else than by fears and apprehensions as to the result upon Consols if we were to accept this suggestion. The hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), who moved the deletion of paragraph (a), sees perfectly well that if this Amendment were carried it would not promote the cause which the hon. Member for Mayo and his friends have at heart. It would merely remove the ability of the Government to create a new capital stock. I do not think it is necessary to dwell upon the technicalities which would result if this Amendment were carried; but I would point out to the hon. Gentlemen who sit below the Gangway that the acceptance of it would not have the effect which they desire. The hon. Member for Mayo asked me whether the Treasury, in taking the course it has adopted, has been in touch with the opinion of the City and of those who have to invest money in stocks of this character. It might be thought from the speech of the hon. Baronet who represents the City of London that he was voicing the wishes and sentiments of the City. In all that I have to say, I shall say it after having had personal conversation, and after having been in personal contact with, gentlemen well versed in finance, and who are cognisant of the general opinion of the City of London and the general Stock Market in this matter. I do not profess to put forward my own personal views upon the matter at all. It is only after consultation with the best financial authorities with whom I could get into touch that I venture to say what I am going to say to the House. I, therefore, respectfully deny the right of the hon. Member for the City of London to say that he is voicing the sentiments of the financial community generally.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
What I said was that I was voicing the sentiments of those who, from their experience and knowledge were able to give an opinion upon this question. It is only a small number of people in the City who can give an opinion.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
And I have had the pleasure of consulting those. The hon. Baronet first of all took exception to the creation of new capital stock, because he said it would involve the existence of two Irish Land Stocks, and the multiplicity of stocks must inevitably tend to diminish the price of one or the other. As a matter of fact, however, there are two Irish Land Stocks in existence at the present moment, one which was raised under the Act of 1901, and the other which was raised under the Act of 1903. There is, therefore, not so fundamental a difficulty in the existence of two Irish Land Stocks as the hon. Baronet thinks, because there are two already in existence.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
Let me assure the hon. Baronet that it is not the existence of a multiplicity of stocks which is so detrimental to the price at which they can be either issued or subsequently bought. It is the constant issue of fresh stock which depreciates the market. The hon. Baronet instanced the stock of Mr. Goschen in 1888, reducing the number of the varieties of Consols, but at the time that particular kind of stock existed Consols were very high, and stood at a considerable price for a long time afterwards. It was only the new issue of Consols subsequent to the war which brought down the price of Consols to the present low level. The hon. Baronet went on to say that it would not be the issue of new Consols for the purpose of Irish land purchase which would depress Consols. He said it was the issue of Land Stock which depressed Consols.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
What I said was that a fresh issue of Consols would depress Consols, but that a fresh issue of Land Stock would depress Land Stock and also Consols, because it would tend to show that the credit of the English Government was on the basis of Irish Land Stock and 762 not on the basis of Consols. It would cause people to sell Consols to buy Irish Land Stock, which returns a higher percentage.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I did not wish to misrepresent the hon. Baronet, but I took down what he said was a reason for the depression of Consols, and it was the constant issue of Irish Land Stock. A much greater cause for the depression of Consols is the fact that there are on the market the Floating Debt Exchequer Bonds, and so forth, which form an attractive security both for bankers and insurance companies. Holders of gilt-edged securities infinitely prefer these securities to Consols, because there is no possibility of depreciation, and because they are redeemable within a comparatively short space of time. That, and not the issue of Land Stock, has affected the price of Consols in the market at the present time. I want to deal more directly with the point raised by the hon. Member for Mayo as to the advisability of issuing Consols for the purpose of financing the Irish land purchase instead of doing it by a guaranteed 2¾ per cent, or 2½ per cent. Irish Land Stock. I do not think the hon. Member did justice to the difference which exists in the minds of investors between Guaranteed Stock, which only has a contingent liability upon the Consolidated Fund, and Consols, which are a direct charge upon that same Consolidated Fund. Whether for good or evil, investors have made up their minds that there is a great difference between the two. While I am by no means certain they are not wrong in the conclusion at which they have come, it is at all events at the present moment impossible to persuade them that one stock is as good as the other. The financial advantages which the hon. Gentleman attaches to the proposed change in the present method of financing Irish land purchase rests entirely upon the assumption that the difference between the price of Consols and Irish Land Stock would always continue at the same ratio as it is to-day; but, supposing, as everybody supposes, the issue of £80,000,000 of stock reduced the price of Consols so as to bring it to a difference of seven or eight points, which ought to subsist between 2½ per cent. Consols and 2¾ per cent. Guaranteed Land Stock, you would at once have lost all the advantage which you had hoped to gain from the change of method. If I am right—and I only voice the opinions 763 I have collected in the City—in assuming that not merely the issue of a new stock, but the fear of constantly recurring issues from quarter to quarter, from six months to six months, and from year to year, including issues of Consols, will depreciate the price of Consols, you will at once lose all the advantage you hope to gain. There is another thing to be remembered in this conjunction. It is this fear of constantly new issues which has depressed the price of the 2¾ per cent. Guaranteed Land Stock. The moment you cease that issue, if it were known there were to be no more issues of this 2¾ per cent. Guaranteed Land Stock, what would follow would be that while you are depressing Consols the price of the 2¾ per cent. Guaranteed Stock would go up. It would become apparent you had embarked upon a very bad bargain in attempting to finance yourself by means of Consols rather than by means of Irish Land Stock. There is another question to be recollected in this connection. It is this. Supposing you adopt the proposal of the hon. Member for Mayo, are you going to keep two different sorts of Consols, one of which is to be ear-marked for the purpose of Irish land purchase, and the other for the ordinary demands of the market. You have to recollect that there is a specific sinking fund attached to the 2¾ per cent. Stock. Is that specific sinking fund to be abolished in the case of Consols, be cause, if not, you have to keep a separate set of books and a separate register of all Consols which are used for the purpose of Irish land purchase. And this has got to be recollected, in connection with this subject, that at the present moment the price of Consols is kept up, even to the low level at which it stands to-day, by constant purchases in the open market by the National Debt Commissioners, and if, for one reason or another, these purchases were to stop, the price of Consols would drop very much at once. I hope the lion. Baronet will, at all events, agree upon—
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I am sorry he will not agree to anything, but in that case he stands entirely by himself in connection with financial transactions, of which I always thought he was a master.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I confess the hon. Gentleman has me at a disadvantage, which I at once acknowledge. I confess I am not familiar with the working of all the financial transactions in connection with Irish land purchase, and in particular with that of the Ashbourne Act, which came into operation 22 or 24 years ago—23 years ago—half a generation before my time. I have endeavoured to show, and I am afraid I have presented it, in rather a lame and halting fashion to the House, a very difficult problem, but I have endeavoured to make clear the position of the Treasury in this case, that we do stand on this one main point, that if you add enormously, as you must do, if you are to finance Irish land purchase by Consols, to the dead weight debt of this country, you at once reduce the credit of this country; you will reduce the price of Consols. You will set up on the other hand, and in many cases, the operation of the Sinking Fund, on the price of 4 per cent. Guaranteed Stock, and the Treasury will be at once accused of having made an exceedingly bad bargain and of departing from those orthodox methods of dealing with land purchase which I think have been sanctioned for some time by previous legislation. We should not hesitate to embark upon this course if we had any belief that you would advantage persons who purchase land in Ireland or those who sell. We hope we are not actuated in any way by pedantry in this matter, but acting upon the advice of those who are best qualified to know the state of the money market and its probable fluctuations and the wishes of the general investing public of England, we feel that we must adhere to the present means of financing Irish land purchase.
§ Mr. JOHN REDMOND
I would like to make it quite clear to the House the position we take up in this master. We are not asking for any new stock. We want the old stock, the 2¾ per cent. Stock, to remain, as under the present law, and we want the loan under that stock to be borne in the same way as the loan is going to be borne on existing transactions of 52 millions by the Treasury. Therefore, we are not asking for the issue of any new stock, but the Government come forward and they insist on endeavouring to meet the loss on future transactions by proposing a 3 per cent. Stock, that is to say, to take a power to issue this 3 per cent. Stock. All that my hon. Friend the Member for Mayo and we are asking for is this: that while they are taking the power to 765 issue a 3 per cent. Stock in future in the room of issuing short bonds, that, in addition, they should take the power, if they think fit, of issuing Consols. My hon. Friend's proposals would not compel the Treasury to deal with this matter by Consols, any more than this Resolution in regard to short bills would compel them to deal with it by short bills. What possible objection can the Treasury have to having this additional option given to it? The right hon. Gentleman says he is advised, in the present state of things in the City and the money market, that it would not be desirable to use that option if they had it. Is that a reason for not taking the power? Even though the Government did not use the power, other Governments in five or six years' time might find it desirable to do so, and why does the right hon. Gentleman refuse to take this option? I should like to know whether putting into this Resolution these words, to take the power to issue money bills, or bonds, and so forth—does that mean necessarily that the Government are going to adopt that method of dealing? Nothing of the kind. It means that they only take the power, and what we want is that they should take the power of issuing Consols, as well as take the power of issuing 3 per cent. Stock or bonds. I have not the knowledge to enable me to deal adequately with financial questions of this sort, but I do call the attention of the House again to the fact mentioned by my hon. Friend that this Runciman Committee only met a few months ago; it took the opinion of every financial expert in the City of London, including the Governor of the Bank of England—I know I ought not to mention names in this connection—but I know, because I have been informed, that practically every financial expert in the City was examined by that Committee, and what do the Committee report: "Almost all the suggestions that have been put before us by our various witnesses have been that Consols should be issued." I think a very unfair method was taken by the Government with reference to this Report. When it was issued to us, and we saw paragraphs like that in it, we thought it would be of enormous importance that we should have the evidence given before this Committee. The Government have refused from that date to this to let us see the evidence, they have refused to give us a list of the names of the witnesses, and yet in view of the fact that all these witnesses reported in 766 favour of Consols, the right hon. Gentleman comes down and says that he has examined presumably the same people, and that they have changed their minds. The Runciman Committee was so impressed by the weight of evidence in favour of Consols that they actually said that if they could be convinced that a saving would ensue to the Treasury by issuing Consols, that it would be worth while taking all the risks and putting aside other methods. There is a strong case to be made in favour of issuing Consols, but, as I said before, we are not asking the right hon. Gentleman to say he will issue Consols, we are not asking him to do so; all we ask is that he should take this additional power of issuing Consols, in addition to the power of issuing 3 per cent. Stock on short bonds. Our position is clear. We look upon this as an alternative—an option—but we do not put it forward as an alternative policy. We do not want him to issue Consols, but we want him to have the power to do so. If we cannot get the old stock continued we want this option put in. I hope the Chief Secretary will be able to give us some more satisfaction than the right hon. Gentleman has done. He, at any rate, ought to enable us to have this option put in knowing perfectly well that we shall not be compelled, if the financial opinion of the Treasury does not warrant it, to put that option into force. I press upon him very strongly to make this issue, which cannot cost the Treasury a farthing, and cannot cause any confusion to the finances of the country.
I think the hon. Gentleman failed to understand the argument of the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury). All through his remarks, which he wrapped up in some mysterious way so as to make the case look more complicated than it really is, there seemed to be a feeling that no matter which step was taken the Treasury would find considerable difficulty in raising the money. The point really before the Committee is whether it would not be better to adhere to the system of having one large stock which is known throughout the length and breadth of the country. It would have been far better to stick to 2¾ per cent. Stock than to issue this 3 per cent. Stock. The expense in connection with these smaller stocks is much greater than that of Consols. There is no more marketable or liquid security in the country than Consols. Three per cent. Stock, £5,000,000 now, 767 £5,000,000 next year, and £5,000,000 the next, is the very worst class of stock for dealing in. In the case of Consols, the transfer of £1,000,000 hardly affects the market, and the broker's and jobber's return is so small that it naturally lends itself to the appreciation of every trustee and everyone who has to do with financial transactions of the kind. In Lord Goschen's time there were three distinct stocks outstanding of the same class as the present Consols—the reduced three's, the new three's, and Consols. Lord Goschen said nothing could be worse than to have several classes of stocks floating about with varying rates of interest and varying charges, and he immediately consolidated them, and now right hon. Gentlemen are going to try to revert back to the old state of affairs where they will not only have Consols, but will also have the 1891 Land Stock, the 1903 Land Stock, and now this proposed 1909 3 per cent. Land Stock. Any wise Chancellor of the Exchequer would consolidate them. The difficulties are immense in calculating for investment purposes which stock is the better to take, and some remarks which have been made below the Gangway will throw dust into the eyes of these people. It is not as though it made any difference at all against the Government. All is in favour of the Government sticking to one large stock. The right hon. Gentleman did not advance a single argument in favour of this grave step. As soon as I saw the Resolution which was to be brought forward to-day I immediately foresaw what difficulty would be created, and when one considers the saving to the Treasury and to everyone who has any transactions in these stocks it is absolutely ridiculous to create a small stock bearing a varying rate of interest to the larger stocks now in existence.
I believe you could issue £50,000,000 of Consols in a few years, if it was known there would not be these smaller issues of £5,000,000, £2,000,000, and £3,000,000, without disturbing the market so much as right hon. Gentlemen fancy. A great supporter of the Government stated last year that £40,000,000 could be raised without disturbing the market at all. When the market is confidently told there will be no more issues for many years to come the whole of the guarantee that is necessary to carry out this gigantic scheme is so much, 40, 50, or 60 millions, and the City will say it is wise of us to make the issue in one large block of that nature, 768 and we are free of this perpetual chopping and changing by those in charge of the finances of the country. The right hon. Gentleman says they are animated solely by fears of the effect on Consols. He did not mention the evidence taken by the Runciman Commission, which was all in favour of Consols and none against Consols. To tell us that since then all these experts have changed their minds and warned them against the issue of Consols seems absurd. I cannot conceive what the object is in tampering or fiddling with this in the manner proposed, and I cannot conceive why the right hon. Gentleman did not answer the very grave objection made by the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), who is very fair in the manner in which he puts forward the financial aspects of the argument, which generally prove to be right, and if there is no better argument to be brought forward on behalf of the Government than that of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, I really think he might give way on the matter and keep the option till some more sensible Treasury officials are in power who desire to save the ratepayers' money and not to place any more burden on either landlord or the tenant, because that is the effect of it. That is the effect of it. The question is a simple one. It is a matter of taking the nettle firmly in the hand, grasping it, and being done with it. If you would only take up the matter boldly, instead of piecemeal, as is now proposed, and unsettling the whole financial arrangements of those who invest in these particular stocks, I think it would be to the advantage not only of the Treasury but of the great scheme which we hope eventually will be carried out.
§ Mr. WILLIAM MOORE
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury indicated that if this Amendment were carried it would mean an obstacle in the carrying out of land purchase in Ireland. I wish to say distinctly for my hon. Friends and myself that in supporting the Amendment we are in no way putting any obstacle in the way of the supply of Imperial funds or the credit which the Act of 1903 contemplated as part of the essential means by which what is often called a national bargain is to be carried out. Nor do we desire to put any obstacle in the way, and if we do support the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), it is solely because we object to the method and not to the granting of the money, and also because we cannot realise that there is any ground for the argument which 769 the Secretary to the Treasury brought forward that if the Amendment were carried, it would necessarily mean an obstacle in the carrying out of land purchase. If the Amendment were carried, land purchase would go on just the same as it is going on, or as it was going on successfully under the late Government, and until under the present Government, the failure to raise the necessary funds caused the block which everyone interested in the welfare of Ireland must deplore. That seemed to be the only argument in the speech of the Secretary to the Treasury, and I was rather surprised to hear so much reliance placed upon the opinion of the City. I always understood that this Government were able in all other matters to ignore the opinion of the City in their financial proposals. But on this occasion, as I gather from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, a selected few are able to put him on a line of Irish financial policy which has received the condemnation of every representative of Irish opinion in this House. We are asked on the ipse dixit of the right hon. Gentleman to believe that the Amendment will throw an obstacle in the way of land purchase. Beyond that statement he has given no adequate reason why the Treasury should come down here with a non possumus and say that they are going to create this 3 per cent. Stock, and that they will listen to no argument against the proposal from those interested in land purchase being carried through. It is a matter between the distributing authority in Ireland and the Treasury in this country. In other words, under the Act of 1903 there was to be a cash advance made to enable the purchaser to carry out the sale made by the vendor, and it was immaterial both to the vendor and the purchaser what loss was directly occasioned in each particular transaction by the fall in Land Stock owing to the inability of that particular stock by which the money was secured to remain at par. In other words, the currency of the people who were invited to enter into land transactions was a cash currency. We know that originally it was intended that the payment should be in stock, and that there would have been considerable loss to the Treasury when stock went up to 113. We know that then the Treasury, represented by the lineal progenitor of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, said that they could not allow the vendors to get stock at 113, and, therefore, they said that under the Land Purchase Act of 1903 the purchase money was to be paid in 770 cash. Inasmuch as Irish Land Stock is now 14 or 15 below par, the Treasury turn round and say that it is no longer to be cash. That is really what the Government policy is. The Government say that they are going to issue this new capital stock ad hoc, and that the vendor is to be paid in that stock if he will take it. Of course, the vendor will be compelled to take it, because he is told at once by the distributing authority, with the Treasury at its back, "We do not compel you to take this stock, but if you do not your case will be dealt with long after the estates of those vendors who are willing to take stock." I cordially associate myself with what was said by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) that the 2¾ per cent. Stock, by reason of its being a special stock, is not in popular favour. It is hard to understand why it should not be in favour. It has been christened on the Stock Exchange "bog stock," and it is not popular with timid investors. I have a very keen recollection that it was argued in this House in the Debates which took place after the findings of the Runciman Committee that if Irish Land Stock were quoted and dealt in at its real value, it would be at least five points above Consols. The price to-day is nearly the same, and in that sense it is an absolutely depreciated stock. We are assured by the Chief Secretary that it is a stock which cannot realise its own value in the market, and under the Bill this stock is to be the actual currency between the vendor and purchaser. I would ask the House to consider the question in this way. In the first place the stock is to be issued as a depreciated stock, although in the Bill it is dealt with as having its face value. It is to be issued at 92. It may be worth 92, but, according to the facts and figures as we have them to-day, you cannot sell the stock at above 87. You are, therefore, creating a stock which is twice depreciated. It is to be issued at 92, but it is so unpopular that you can only sell it at 87. It is not to the credit of the Imperial Parliament, which has made this the matter of a great national settlement, that you should induce a man for the sake of his country to part with his land to a purchaser and then pay him for that land in a doubly depreciated stock. There is no question about that being the policy of the Bill, or about the indirect compulsion to be exercised upon vendors to accept this stock. That will be a thoroughly unfair transaction, and one 771 most likely to be carried through if the Treasury are given power to issue a third stock. This will be another reason operating towards the slow working of land purchase. You will have difficulty in getting investors to put their money into a stock which, unless it is. carefully explained to them, they will not understand is as good a security as Consols; but it will be a still more difficult thing u) get a man to sell all he has in the world or to come to an agreement with his tenants if you give him a stock in which investors will not readily invest, and of which, when it has to be turned into money, he has a difficulty in disposing, and then only at less than its face value. If this Bill makes the face value of this doubly depreciated stock the basis of transactions between vendor and purchaser, it will be an obstacle to land purchase, because you will create a direct inducement to the vendor not to accept a stock of this sort. I shall, therefore, have pleasure in supporting the hon. Member for the City of London if he goes to a Division.
§ Mr. MAURICE HEALY
I think we are entitled to take note of the fact that since this Bill was last under discussion there has been a complete change of front on the part of the Treasury. The Secretary to the Treasury on that occasion, it is true, did not deal at length with this question of providing for the emergency which has arisen in the matter of land purchase in Ireland by the issuing of a 2½ per cent. Stock; but he did glance at it. He told the Committee that the issue of a 2½ per cent. Stock was impossible, his only reason being that the issue of Consols should be reserved for a national emergency. I am glad that that argument, at any rate, has been abandoned to-day. There is no talk now about a national emergency, and if the Chief Secretary addresses the House on this question I think the last proposition he will venture to put forward is that the state of things existing in Ireland today is not something in the nature of a national emergency, and a very grave national emergency indeed. The proposition that this stock should be issued only in case of a national emergency is quite inconsistent with the argument put forward by the Secretary to the Treasury today. He now says that there would be no advantage in issuing this stock. If that is the case, what was the necessity for telling us on the last occasion that the reason this stock could not be issued was that it 772 should only be issued in the case of a national emergency? If it is the case, as we know for the first time to-day, that no advantage would result lo land purchase from this process, there was not the smallest necessity for telling us that the issue of Consols could only be undertaken in such a contingency as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. The refusal of the Treasury to deal with this grave situation in the manner called for in the Amendment is in effect a denial to Ireland of Imperial credit. With Imperial credit we assert that money could be raised at 2½ per cent. When we want money for English or Imperial purposes you are quick enough to pledge the Imperial credit; it is only when money is required for an Irish purpose that the Imperial credit is refused, and you go to the public in a manner which on its very face depreciates the security offered. This is not a new experience with us in Ireland. I well remember when the Liberal Government of 1883 was initiating its policy of the extension of railways in Ireland, and it was proposed that the money should be raised partly by means of the Imperial credit and partly by means of local guarantees. On that occasion also the Imperial credit was lent in the same stepmotherly fashion. The money was to be raised by a baronial guarantee, recouped to some extent by a grant from the Treasury We proposed that the money should be raised by an Imperial guarantee, the Imperial Exchequer being recouped from the baronies. It made all the difference; to the baronies which method was adopted. In the one case we could have got the money at 3 per cent.; in the other the baronies had to go to the market and raise the money, in many cases at 5 per cent. There would have been no loss to the Exchequer, and the baronies would have saved 2 per cent. We are now having a similar experience on a much larger scale. The Secretary to the Treasury has used only two arguments to-day. He told us, in the first place, that the debt to be created for the purpose of advancing Irish land transactions was different in its character from the ordinary public debt of the throe countries. That, of course, is so. I do not know whether I am correct in using the term "deadweight debt," but I think that that is the expression generally used to distinguish between debt which is a sheer weight on the taxpayer and debt represented by assets in the guarantee of a local authority or income derived from some investment, such as Suez Canal shares, or 773 something else of that kind, where the money has to be paid only in certain contingencies. The hon. Member for East Mayo made a complete reply to that argument in an interruption to the right hon. Gentleman's speech, when he pointed out that this is no new proposal. Money was raised in this way in Ireland, certainly for a period of five years, and to a smaller extent for a period of nearly 20 years. Land purchase transactions in Ireland started as far back as 1869, and, at any rate, transactions on a substantial scale were going on in the manner which the Secretary to the Treasury says is a practical impossibility from the passing of the Act of 1885 down to the date when the Leader of the Opposition passed the Act coupled with his name in 1892. It is quite true that the debt created for the purpose of financing the Ashbourne Act of 1885 stands upon a somewhat different footing from the general debt of the country. It is not what you call a dead-weight debt, and any liability in respect of it only falls on the taxpayer on a contingency. But the right hon. Gentleman says, "To do what you ask us would compel us to keep a second set of books." That was the sum and substance of the right hon. Gentleman's proposition—that the National Debt Commissioners would be compelled to do this dreadful thing, keep a second set of books, in order to earmark that portion of Consols which is secured by the annuities derived from Irish land from the rest of the National Debt, which is secured in no such way. Are we seriously to be told that the keeping of a new set of books by the National Debt Commissioners is such a grave matter that it is a reason for refusing us Imperial credit in the manner in which it is refused here to-day? The keeping of these books has nothing to do with the investing public. They know nothing about it. The man who holds £100 worth of Consols, the proceeds of which were applied to financing the Ashbourne Act of 1885, has not the remotest idea, and has no reason to think that his money was applied in that way. It appears in some book kept in the offices of the National Debt Commissioners that the fund was so applied, but the investing public have nothing to do with that fact, and it never comes under their notice. If the National Debt Commissioners decide to take unto themselves the powers which we are recommending, and exercise those powers, it is perfectly true that they would have to keep in their office a set of books to distinguish the portion of stock which has 774 been applied for this particular purpose, and which only throws a contingent burden on the ratepayer, from the rest of the debt of the United Kingdom. And it is only trifling with us in a very serious matter to urge that as a serious argument why the Treasury should refuse to do what we are asking. The other proposition of the right hon. Gentleman is that here would be no financial advantage in raising the proposed stock. That involves the proposition that if there is an issue of £5,000,000 of Consols in order to finance land purchase, there would forthwith be a drop of 7 per cent, in Consols. Is that a credible proposition? Is it seriously put forward to us that the issue of £5,000,000 of Consols, with the possibility of further issues from year to year or more remote periods, as would be required for the purposes of land purchase, is an operation which will cause Consols forthwith to drop from 85 to 78? That is the proposition which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury put forward, and I think that though he was on bad ground when he told us that the motive which actuated the Treasury was that this stock should be reserved for a great national emergency he is on still worse ground when he wants us to believe that the issue of £5,000,000 of Consols would mean an immediate drop from 85 to 78. We have been greatly disappointed with the flat refusal which the Treasury has urged in reply to the arguments which have been issued from those benches. Already it has been pointed out that we are not asking them to pledge themselves to the issue of these Consols if they do not find it expedient to do so. But we are asking them that they shall not tie their hands, and put it out of their power to raise money at 2½ per cent, should it become possible for them to do so. The original precedent by which it is sought to justify the issue of stock at a higher rate of interest than that which is paid on the general debt of the country, namely, the case of 1890, when the Leader of the Opposition introduced his Bill, is really no precedent for it at all. When the Leader of the Opposition introduced his Bill Consols were paying 2¾ per cent, interest. It is true that an Act had been passed by the late Lord Goschen converting the debt, and consolidaing it, and ultimately reducing the interest on Consols to 2½ per cent. No doubt it was 2¾ per cent, dropping to 2½ per cent. in ten years. But the rate of interest which Consols were paying was 2¾ per cent., and 775 practically he could have put nothing else in his Bill but 2¾ per cent I am not going to dwell on my last point as to the peril in which the present proposals of the Government place the whole system of land purchase in Ireland. In my view these clauses which we are now discussing are the sum and substance of the whole Bill. The question is not whether this Bill gives us certain advantages. The question is what is to be the influence on land purchase in Ireland of this Bill as a whole? If it suspends land purchase as it is bound to do, then, whatever advantages it gives, it is a bad Bill. This Amendment at any rate gives the Government some opportunity of putting land purchase in Ireland, if the finances of the Kingdom should be favourable, on the old footing, and in refusing, not to bind themselves to issue 2½ per cent. Stock, but in refusing to take powers to do so, they arc further imperilling the future of land purchase and pledging themselves, as I believe, to a policy which will end in its complete suspension.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Birrell)
By some sort of, I dare say, sensible arrangement, we are now discussing whether the Government should take to itself power by any provisions in this Bill to raise the funds required to carry out land purchase in Ireland in the future by the issue of Consolidated Stock. Although the actual Amendment before the House has a different effect, and is one which I hardly think by itself would secure any large measure of support from hon. Gentlemen opposite, I quite agree that was are now dealing with this question in the form in which it has been raised, as to whether it would be a wise, prudent, or proper course for the Government, in face of the problem of land purchase still remaining unsolved, amounting to a great number of millions, we have to consider how tar that money should be provided by the issue of Consols. Of course, that is not an Irish matter, strictly so-called. Although it will affect Irish interests, it is not a question falling strictly within my province as Chief Secretary. This question is what is called sometimes "high finance," and we have been given to understand by the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) that, in his judgment, there are not more than half-a-dozen people in the wide universe, and I am not one of them, who are capable of 776 giving the House practical advice on matters of that kind. I do not claim to belong to the inner circle of City authorities, and, therefore, I feel myself in this matter bound by authority. The suggestion is that this matter of Irish land purchase should be absorbed in the general obligations of the country. Hitherto in all our transactions, from the Ashbourne Acts downwards, land purchase in Ireland has been considered as a thing by itself. The proposal on which the Act of 1903 was based was that, in order to secure peace, concord, and the settlement of Ireland and her social interests money should be provided to enable tenants and other persons who are desirous of becoming landlords in Ireland to purchase their holdings from the existing landlords without any loss, except so far as the bonus is concerned, to the British Exchequer at all. The proposal was to obtain money by loan, and that the whole debt should be got rid of by means of a sinking fund provided for in the annuity itself. Therefore, the question never arose at all in connection with the general debt of the country, but as a particular transaction that should be recommended to the House as, on the whole, a business transaction, whereby money could be procured and repaid in something like 68½ years by means of that convenient thing the Sinking Fund.
As regards the Ashbourne Act, the hon. Member for Mayo almost created the impression in my mind at the moment that the moneys for that Act were provided by Consols. It is not so; they were provided for by what is now known as Local Loans Stock. It was a very small transaction, almost experimental, and limited to five million pounds. Nobody ever dreamt in those days of its ever being absorbed in the broad bosom of the National Debt. Such an idea never entered into anybody's mind. At all events, the Ashbourne Acts were not financed through the means of Consolidated Stock. The loans were limited in amount, made for a particular purpose, and repaid by the sinking fund included in the annuity in the manner which I cited to the House the other night. Therefore it is a new proposal. It is a proposal which was never contemplated at the time of the Act of 1903, and it is a proposal which meets with the strongest possible opposition from the Treasury. They are adamant on the point. They always have been ever since I have had anything to do with this thorny question. They never contemplated the issue of Consols as being the proper mode of dealing with the 777 question. To-day we have had the question argued, as it were, on its merits, and we have been assured by hon. Gentleman opposite and by the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London that by the issue of Consols 40, 50, 60, 70 or 80 millions of money could be obtained according as it is wanted for the growing purpose of land purchase, which I hope will continue and increase. The amount of money we shall want every year will be at least 10 millions, and we are told that it possibly may exceed that sum, but that, it is said, can be absorbed by the market by the issue of Consols without in any way affecting the price of the commodity. I am not an authority on this point. Consols have always been a mystery to me, and their fluctuations are beyond my ken, but they are very important to the interests of the State. It is of no use to say that supposing they do fall a little, what does that matter? A small fall in the price of Consols in a thousand ways interferes with and affects the general welfare of this country from the financial point of view. It is all very well for the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. W. Moore) to say with confidence, no doubt from information which has been given to him by someone, that there is nothing in it at all, and that you could issue 10, 15, or 20 millions of Consols a year for this purpose.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
I would not for a moment question the perfect right of the hon. and gallant Gentleman to make such a statement, because I am quite sure he made it on authority. It is an opinion which hon. Members have a perfect right to hold that you can raise 50, 60, or 70 or 100 millions by further issues of Consols as required from time to time and year by year, because it is the very essence of the proper working of land purchase in Ireland that whenever the money is wanted it should be forthcoming. The hon. Gentleman says, I think, that we can do that, and that we need not have any anxiety on the subject at all, and that if these issues are only consolidated in one great stock the price will not go down. Lord Goschen was referred to as a great authority in favour of the consolidation of stocks. I daresay he was a great authority, and that it may have been a very good thing to have consolidated stock, but, at all events, this consolidated stock at the present moment 778 commands a much lower price in the market than the separate stocks did before they were consolidated. That, no doubt, is not due to any misapprehension on the part of Lord Goschen, but simply to the fact that the credit of the country is not what it was, and that can easily be accounted for by the fact that Consols are no longer the favourite investment they were at the time when trustees and almost everybody invested large sums in Consols. They do so no longer. Some reasons for that were given by my right hon. Friend, and these make it certain that in future you cannot expect investors to go to Consols in the way they used to do. Therefore it is a matter which I quite agree—speaking not on my own account, but simply speaking as a pious Churchman would speak upon matters which have been declared authoritatively by the General Council—it would be very ill-advised for persons, unless they feel themselves to be supported by a very great amount of authority, to assume that Consols themselves can assume this obligation with reference to Irish land. Irish land purchase is a transaction of a particular kind, not a transaction, in my judgment, involving great risk, but a very different transaction from that of the general obligation of the country. We cannot issue, as you would have us do year by year, 10 or 15 millions of Consols for the purpose of financing land purchase. You might very materially and seriously reduce the price of Consols. All I can say is that is what I am told, and I am bound to say I can see reason for it. At all events, it is impossible for me in a matter of that kind to reject the authority of persons who put that view before me, although, on the whole, I resisted it argumentatively for the purpose of bringing the whole force of the argument against me as strongly as I reasonably could. I cannot go into the question as to who those authorities are. My right hon. Friend has told you that he has been into the City of London and taken advice, and the advice is contrary to the suggestion that this great land transaction should be taken over by the nation on the same terms and basis as the transactions of the country at large. No Consols have been issued since 1902. The question I have to put to hon. Gentlemen opposite is whether they contend that the price of Consols, low as it is at present, and maintained by the consideration that issues of Consols are matters of very rare occurrence, whether the fact that every year there 779 was to be this great addition or considerable addition to Consols of several millions every year, might not very likely affect the price of Consols? We are advised most positively that it would. Then the suggestion is made very seductively by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) that all they want by the actual Amendment which they wish some time or other to introduce, is to give the Treasury the option of issuing Consols, and it is said, Why should the Treasury resist an option and why should it not be free to deal with this great and difficult problem, as suggested in this particular Amendment? The answer of the Treasury is, first of all, although I think the Treasury is successful in resisting pressure—at all events made by me—the answer is that they know the effect which would be produced on the market by the mere possibility that Consols may be interfered with, and that the issue of them may at any time be increased by a demand from the Treasury resulting from pressure. But of the two evils they would very much prefer that they should simply have the option which they would be able to seek to resist rather than have compulsion put upon them. They hold the option itself would have an evil effect upon the price of Consols. You may say what a sensitive thing Consols are and how easily investors are affected.
That is the general statement. I am not concerned to controvert it, but everybody does know that the markets are subject to those extraordinary fluctuations and sentiment and influences which no sane man could hope to express in plain language. At all events, the Treasury feel that, were an option imposed upon them, the pressure to which they would be exposed to exercise that option in a particular way by the united demand of Ireland in this matter, and I quite agree there is a united claim on this point, would be to expose them not only to temptation but the credit of the country to a risk which they are not willing it should run. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. M. Healy) said that Ireland was entitled to the credit of the country, and that the credit of the country, in the form hitherto given, was doing her harm. Anybody knows that Consols, as standing now, produce within a few pence of 3 per cent., so that 3 per cent, is therefore the credit of the country. There is no good talking of the credit of the country being 2½ per cent. It is a 3 per cent, credit, and that we 780 are giving to Ireland under the Bill. Being, as I am, charged with the conduct of this Bill, and also being as full alive as any man could be to the enormous importance of providing the best possible means of raising this enormous sum of money which is necessary to complete land purchase, which has got to be completed everybody agrees, I should be glad to try and seek to ease my path in any way that was open to me, but I really cannot even pretend to set my judgment, which, I confess, is very much affected by the arguments that are employed by the Treasury, I cannot affect to set any wishes or private desires of my own in order to facilitate a measure in which I am deeply interested—or even land purchase, which is a matter of first-class importance—I cannot set my judgment against those who are entitled to advise me and also the Government and the House in this matter. Mention has been made of the Government acceding in any way to the opinion of the City in this instance, and hon. Gentlemen have said how foolish it is in this particular instance to pay any attention to the City.
§ Mr. W. MOORE
What I said was that it was a matter of some surprise as being contrary to the general policy of the Government in all other transactions that in this one they should rely on financial opinion in the City in this, case and not in others, and that I did not understand why.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
I will not pursue the subject. The hon. and learned Gentleman has had the satisfaction of a sneer, and I hope will feel gratified. In this particular matter I can only repeat what I have already said, that the Government in this case are not in any way animated by the faintest desire to do anything but that which would facilitate land purchase in Ireland. If by this simple process of taking over transactions which hitherto have been kept separate and treated as one, if by taking them over as a great national obligation the path of land purchase was going to be smoothed without injury to British credit or to the maintaining of the price of a great national security, why, we would have gladly done it. But we are satisfied, for the reasons which have been given by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Hobhouse), and to some extent 781 repeated by myself, that that course cannot be safely adopted. Gentlemen opposite may come in hereafter, and I do not know whether my right hon. Friend opposite is going to say that the moment he comes into power he will lightly undertake this obligation. If it is so, one would like to hear him say it. The Government, for the time being responsible for the whole interests of the country, think that the experiment, seductive and tempting as it may seem, is one that they cannot possibly accede to.
§ Mr. WALTER LONG
The Chief Secretary invited me to say what I am going to do when I come into power. What will happen to my party is one thing,' and I think I would rather wait until that first question is settled before I give an answer. I confess I am very sorry for this difficulty of the Government, and after listening very carefully to the speech of the Financial Secretary and the Chief Secretary I find it very difficult to understand why the Treasury have arrived at this attitude. I have myself, with some experience of the Treasury, unlimited respect for the immense experience and knowledge which is possessed by the distinguished gentlemen who have advised successive Governments. Nobody realises more than I do the very deep debt we owe to those distinguished men for the great services they have rendered to the State by keeping successive Governments and successive Ministers straight on questions where they might easily err if it were not for the assistance in the Treasury of those very distinguished men. In this case what have been the reasons given by the representative of the Treasury and that which have been accepted by the Chief Secretary as conclusive evidence against the adoption of this proposal? They have relied, I think, upon three reasons, and the third has been entirely within the region of speculation. The positive statements are that you have now got two stocks, and therefore there is no reason for not adding a third. I demur altogether to that. I venture to say if the Government were able to start a better precedent by so doing they would be offering a very considerable advantage to Ireland, and people here too. The other difference and the other objection was one that I confess I listened to with amazement. That was the statement that there is a real difference, an actual difference, from the point of view of the investor, as between Consols and Guaranteed Stock. If there is that 782 difference I venture to say it is the strongest argument in support of the Amendment of my hon. Friend and of the scheme which has been advocated from this side of the House.
If there is that difference, then I can only say that it must arise out of some complete ignorance on the part of the investor as to what Irish Stock really is. I am inclined to agree with the Financial Secretary that there must be a large amount of ignorance in the public mind: they do not understand what Guaranteed Stock really means. If that be true, surely, then, it is an argument as powerful as could be advanced for the abolition of a system which misleads the public; and, consequently, produces this result: that the stock in question does not stand at its fair market value. Why? Not because it is not worth the money, or good stock, or without security, but because the public have formed what is practically an erroneous opinion about it, and are not prepared to accept it at its proper value. If that be true, as it appears to be—I admit that the argument is one that is clearly comprehensible—it tells entirely against the case of the Government and in favour of the alteration which we desire to make. When I was Chief Secretary—towards the end of my time—-I found that Irish Land Stock was not going so well as I and others desired. I made considerable inquiries from bankers and stockbrokers of great experience and eminence in the City, and asked the reason for it. One of the reasons was this very doubt as to the meaning of Guaranteed Stock. Another reason given by every one of these gentlemen was that owing to the fact that there were two different kinds of stock—Consols and the peculiar Irish Stock—the Irish Stock had not its fair chance in the market.
We come to the final argument advanced by the Chief Secretary: that you must not ask this country to risk Consols. It is well known that there are not to-day the same large number of regular investors in Consols that there were 20 or 30 years ago. Insurance societies and others do not hold the same amount. If that be true, what is it that we are asking Parliament to do? It is in regard to this Irish Land Stock, which the Financial Secretary tells us has a different aspect to the investor, to that which Consols have, to give the seal to this misleading view. We are ignoring the fact that Irish Land Stock is as much a stock for which the credit of Great 783 Britain is pledged as are Consols or anything else. My own knowledge of financial matters is not great, and of high finance I know nothing, but I submit that if you are going to lay down a principle that to invade the security of Consols is a thing which Parliament must not do, you are running a risk of concealing the true facts of the case, when, at the same time, you ignore the fact that Irish Land Stock is just as much a security in which the credit of Parliament is involved as Consols. What, therefore, does it come to? You have this very difficult land problem, and under the Rill you arc asking owners, sellers, and buyers to make some small sacrifice. Here is a scheme which, if all the figures are correct—of this I venture to say nothing—would materially reduce the amount of loss which is to be borne by those who come under your new provisions. The Government should pause before they reject a proposal which might not have the consequences which the Government foresee.
I come to my last point. The last argument advanced is that the required issue of so much Consols for the purposes of land purchase would certainly tend to depreciate Consols. I know nothing of these matters, but I am told on all hands that that would not be the case. At all events, whatever experience and knowledge the Treasury has—and I admit they have unlimited experience and knowledge —we are here not dealing with facts, but are coming within the region of prophesy. No one can claim to be infallible here. The Government may be mistaken. But supposing they are right? What are they going to do? You are going to continue this inevitable issue of Land Stock. Do the Government seriously tell us that the guarantee for the Irish Land Stock is one thing, and the guarantee for Consols another? Look at the language of the financial Resolution on the Paper to-day! There is no difference in the liability of the State for stock and the Consols. I believe the argument is identical. If that be so, the responsibility of the State and Parliament is exactly the same in connection with Irish Land Stock and Consols. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury shakes his head. I am bound to notice that, because I think it is a very grave matter, and we ought to have some justification for it. For the State comes forward and stands behind this security, and says that certain interest and charges shall be paid. What is 784 simpler than that? You are going to protect Consols from the loss which must be borne by the Land Stock. I submit that is not fair. I regret that the Government have not seen their way to make this change, which I certainly, should have pressed upon my colleagues if I had remained longer in office; because I believe the present condition of things is one of the most serious obstacles in the way of the Issue of Land Stock for the purpose for which it is required. Whether I would have met with better luck than the Chief Secretary I do not know, but I think the Treasury are unduly nervous.
§ Mr. CHARLES CRAIG
I would like to call the attention of the Committee to the fact that last Friday and to-day every Member from Ireland has been united in the demand made on the Government. In spite of that fact, the Government turns a deaf ear to their request. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has admitted in his speech, and I think the Financial Secretary, too, admitted that personally they knew very little about this question. All the information they have given to the House, and the arguments they relied upon, had been received from their advisers at the Treasury. All the evidence we have heard from the speeches made on this side of the House are in favour of the proposals were have made. Any person of independent judgment of mind, no matter to what party he belongs, who heard the arguments put forwrard in favour of including Consols among the three methods of raising the money for land purchase, would have said we have proved our case up to the hilt. It is stated in the Report of the Runciman Committee that almost all the suggestions put before them by the various witnesses took the form that the requisite cash could be obtained by the issue of Cansols rather than 2¾ per cent. Guaranteed Stock. That is a very important point, and the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) assured us that the witnesses whose suggestions are referred to in the Report included a great number of gentlemen of very great weight in the City—financiers, stockbrokers, and everybody whose opinion was believed to be of any value. As against that evidence we are asked to take as conclusive the opinion formed by this Committee, composed as it was of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education (Mr. Runciman), Sir Felix Schuster, and three other gentleman, of whom I know nothing except that they have the 785 letters C.B. after their names, and are, therefore, I suppose, connected with some Government Department. We are asked to take the opinion of the President of the Board of Education, whom, without any disrespect, I never looked upon as a great authority upon financial matters, and Sir Felix Schuster, who is a great authority, as against these witnesses who, according to the hon. and learned Member for Water-ford, were influential gentlemen in the City, and whose evidence is to the exact contrary.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
The statement of the hon. Member for Waterford that these gentlemen were gentlemen of great weight in the financial world was merely an assertion.
§ Mr. C. CRAIG
I am sure it was only an assertion, but I am sure the hon. and learned Member would not have made it unless he was prepared to justify it. I go further, and say the fact that the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his Friends have persistently refused to present the evidence shows that most probably there is something in the evidence which they know to be damaging to their case.
§ Mr. JOHN CLANCY
May I interrupt the hon. Member for a moment in order to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the- Treasury whether he denies
§ the statement of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford?
§ Mr. C. CRAIG
I think, on the whole, the position taken up by the Government is a very bad one. Turning to the expression used in the Report about a national emergency, I venture to say no national emergency could be greater than the one with which we are face to face in completing land purchase in Ireland. The proposals of the Government are that the landlords shall accept a smaller price, and that the purchaser shall pay a greater price. We hold out a proposal to the Government which they admit, so far as land purchase is concerned, would be of considerable assistance, yet they refuse to accept it. I say the blame will lie upon the Government if, after the passing of this Act, if it ever passes, they find the predictions that we have made come true, namely, that instead of expediting land purchase they have hindered it by refusing to include Consols in the category of securities for raising the necessary capital for land purchase.
§ Question put, "That paragraph (a) stand part of the Resolution."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 130; Noes, 122.787
|Division No. 362.]||AYES.||[2.44 p.m.|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Crosfield, A. H.||Kekewich, Sir George|
|Allen, A. Acland (Christchurch)||Cross, Alexander||King, Alfred John (Knutsford)|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Crossley, William J.||Lamont, Norman|
|Baker, Joseph A. (Finsbury, E.)||Dalziel, Sir James Henry||Layland-Barrett, Sir Francis|
|Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight)||Dewar, Arthur (Edinburgh, S.)||Lewis, John Herbert|
|Barker, Sir John||Dewar, Sir J. A. (Inverness-sh.)||Luttrell, Hugh Fownes|
|Barlow, Percy (Bedford)||Dickinson, W. H. (St. Pancras, N.)||Lyell, Charles Henry|
|Barnes, G. N.||Dobson, Thomas W.||Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)|
|Barran, Rowland Hirst||Dunne, Major E. Martin (Walsall)||Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs)|
|Barran, Sir John Nicholson||Elibank, Master of||Maddison, Frederick|
|Barry, Redmond J. (Tyrone, N.)||Everett, R. Lacey||Marnham, F. J.|
|Beale, W. P.||Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter||Masterman, C. F. G.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Gibb, James (Harrow)||Menzies, Sir Walter|
|Beck, A. Cecil||Gill, A. H.||Molteno, Percy Alport|
|Benn, W. (Tower Hamlets, St. Geo.)||Gladstone, Rt. Hon. Herbert John||Morgan, G. Hay (Cornwall)|
|Bertram, Julius||Glen-Coats, Sir T. (Renfrew, W.)||Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)|
|Bethell, T. R. (Essex, Maldon)||Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford||Murray, Capt. Hon. A. C. (Kincard.)|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Greenwood, G. (Peterborough).||Myer, Horatio|
|Bowerman, C. W.||Grey, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward||Napier, T. B.|
|Branch, James||Guiland, John W.||Newnes, F. (Notts, Bassetlaw)|
|Brooke, Stopford||Harcourt. Rt. Hon. L. (Rossendale)||Nicholls, George|
|Brunner, J. F. L. (Lancs., Leigh)||Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncaster)|
|Brunner, Rt. Hon. Sir J. T. (Cheshire)||Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Worcester)||Nussey, Sir Willans|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Hart-Davies, T.||Pollard, Dr. G. H.|
|Burnyeat, W. J. D.||Haworth, Arthur A.||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.|
|Cawley, Sir Frederick||Hedges, A. Paget||Radford, G. H.|
|Channing, Sir Francis Allston||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)||Rainy, A. Rolland|
|Clough, William||Herbert, T. Arnold (Wycombe)||Rees, J. D.|
|Collins, Stephen (Lambeth)||Higham, John Sharp||Richard, T. F. (Wolverhampton, W.)|
|Compton-Rickett, Sir J.||Hobart, Sir Robert||Ridsdale, E. A.|
|Cooper, G. J.||Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H.||Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)|
|Corbett, C. H. (Sussex, E. Grinstead)||Horniman, Emslie John||Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Hyde, Clarendon G.||Rogers, F. E. Newman|
|Cotton, Sir H. J. S.||Illingworth, Percy H.||Rowlands, J.|
|Craiq, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)||Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)||Rutherford, V. H. (Brentford)|
|Schwann, Sir C. E. (Manchester)||Trevelyan, Charles Philips||White, Sir George (Norfolk)|
|Scott, A. H. (Ashton-under-Lyne)||Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander||White, J. Dundas (Dumbartonshire)|
|Seely, Colonel||Walters, John Tudor||White, Sir Luke (York, E.R.)|
|Steadman, W. C.||Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)||Whitley, John Henry (Halifax)|
|Stewart, Halley (Greenock)||Wason, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Strachey, Sir Edward||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Tennant, H. J. (Berwickshire)||Waterlow, D. S.|
|Thompson, J. W. H. (Somerset, E.)||Watt, Henry A.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Joseph Pease and Captain Norton.|
|Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)||Wedgwood, Josiah C.|
|Abraham, W. (Cork, N.E.)||Gilhooly, James||O'Brien, K. (Tipperary, Mid)|
|Acland-Hood, Rt. Hon. Sir Alex. F.||Ginnell, L.||O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W.)|
|Ambrose, Robert||Goulding, Edward Alfred||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Guinness, Hon. R. (Haggerston)||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Balcarres, Lord||Guinness, Hon. W. E. (B. St. Edm'nds)||Oddy, John James|
|Barrie, H. T. (Londonderry, N.)||Gwynn, Stephen Lucius||O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.)|
|Barry, E. (Cork, S.)||Hamilton, Marquess of||O'Dowd, John|
|Bignold, Sir Arthur||Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil)||O'Grady, J.|
|Boland, John||Harrison-Broadley, H. B.||O'Kelly, Conor (Mayo, N.)|
|Bull, Sir William James||Hayden, John Patrick||O'Kelly, James (Roscommon, N.)|
|Burke, E. Haviland-||Hazleton, Richard||O'Malley, William|
|Butcher, Samuel Henry||Healy, Maurice (Cork)||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.|
|Cameron, Robert||Hermon-Hodge, Sir Robert||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)|
|Carlile, E. Hildred||Hodge, John||Percy, Earl|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward H.||Hogan, Michael||Philips, John (Longford, S.)|
|Clancy, John Joseph||Kavanagh, Walter M.||Power, Patrick Joseph|
|Clive, Percy Archer||Kennedy, Vincent Paul||Randies, Sir John Scurrah|
|Clyde, James Aven||Kerry, Earl of||Reddy, M.|
|Cochrane, Hon. Thomas H. A. E.||Kilbride, Denis||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Lambton, Hon. Frederick William||Redmond, William (Clare, E.)|
|Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)||Lardner, James Carrige Rushe||Renton, Leslie|
|Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.)||Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, W.)||Roche, Augustine (Cork)|
|Craig, Captain James (Down, E.)||Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Col. A. R.||Roche, John (Galway, East)|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter (Dublin, S.)||Rutherford, Watson (Liverpool)|
|Crean, Eugene||Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Seddon, J.|
|Cullinan, J.||Lundon, T||Sheehan, Daniel Daniel|
|Delany, William||MacCaw, Wm. J. MacGeagh||Sheehy, David|
|Dickson, Rt. Hon. C. Scott-||MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley George D.|
|Dillon, John||MacVeagh, Jeremiah (Down, S.)||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)|
|Donelan, Captain A.||MacVeigh, Charles (Donegal, E.)||Snowden, P.|
|Doughty, Sir George||M'Kean, John||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Meagher, Michael||Tuke, Sir John Batty|
|Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)||Valentia, Viscount|
|Duncan, Robert (Lanark, Govan)||Meehan, Patrick A. (Queen's Co.)||Warde, Col. C. E. (Kent, Mid)|
|Esmonde, Sir Thomas||Mooney, J. J.||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Faber, Capt. W. V. (Hants, W.)||Moore, William||Williams, Col. R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Fell, Arthur||Murnaghan, George||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Ffrench, Peter||Murphy, John (Kerry, East)||Younger, George|
|Field, William||Nannetti, Joseph P.|
|Flavin, Michael Joseph||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Sir|
|Flynn, James Christopher||Nolan, Joseph||Frederick Banbury and Mr. Patrick O'Brien.|
|Forster, Henry William||Nugent, Sir Walter Richard|
Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolu-lution," put, and agreed to.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
moved to leave out paragraph (d). The words contained in this paragraph seem to be foreign to the general object of the Bill, and for this reason I propose to omit them. In view of the Division which has just taken place, it is quite possible that the Government might desire to adjourn the House in order to reconsider their position, and I will content myself by simply moving this Amendment.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
I assure the hon. Baronet that I do not require any extra time to consider this Amendment. This paragraph deals with a matter of great importance, and the hon. Baronet has not given any reason for its omission.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
It has already been proposed to divide the Bill into two halves in order to allow the provisions dealing with the Congested Districts Board to stand over. There is, therefore, no necessity to waste any further time over this proposal. The Government will not contemplate that course for a single moment. This paragraph deals with the problems dealt with and reported upon by the Dudley Commission, and they are most pressing. I do not think hon. Members corning from Ireland will be found ready to support the hon. Baronet when he seeks to separate these problems. There may be an honest difference of opinion as to whether the Government are proposing to deal with the 789 problem in the wisest and best manner. As to that I say nothing, but the notion that we can introduce a Land Bill, and for the first time for many years seek to separate the two propositions of dealing with the uneconomic conditions in the West and the general problem of land purchase, is quite impossible. I am sure the hon. Baronet will receive very little support in this matter, because it is the opinion of everybody in Ireland, however much they may differ as to the best mode of dealing with this problem, that Irish land purchase and the rebuilding of the economic prosperity in the West should never be separated.
§ Captain CRAIG
I would like to say, in reply to the right hon. Gentleman, that, as this Bill proceeds, he will see that a very different attitude will have to be taken up, or he will not get the Bill. It would not imperil a great part of the Bill at all to leave out paragraph (d), because he will have the other paragraphs left. He will then have that part of the Bill to go on with which will receive the approval and assistance, I think, of every Member of this House, whereas the part which is so strongly objected to by those who know what the problem is can be missed out, without causing any embarrassment to the right hon. Gentleman. It would actually assist him to get his Bill through. He says he will not divorce the question of the Congested Districts Board and the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in Ireland from the rest of the Bill. Everybody knows two Bills ought to have been submitted separately, and the reasons advanced by the right hon. Gentleman would not, in my opinion, justify the House in permitting money to be raised and payments made on behalf of this entirely new system of the Congested Districts Board under their extended powers. I must confess I am astonished to hear, after the Division which has just taken place, that the right hon. Gentleman still adheres to his intention to carry out this part covered by paragraph (d). If he would only drop it and go ahead with the rest, then he would get a Land Bill probably this year, but if he persists in asking us to swallow the whole of this part of the Bill, which nobody likes at all, then I am afraid he will not see his Bill this Session. I prefer my Amendment to that of the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), and I hope, when putting the question, you, Sir, will reserve me the right to move my Amendment later.
§ Captain CRAIG moved to leave out of paragraph (d) the words "to the Congested Districts Board for Ireland and." I put this Amendment on the Paper because I felt something should be done to elicit from the Chief Secretary what his real intentions are with regard to this part of the Bill. I very much deprecate keeping back any funds from the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. I think all the money we can legitimately have for that Department should be freely Voted by this House, but, since the right hon. Gentleman has tacked on an annual sum for the Congested Districts Board, I strongly object to this part of the Resolution. Anyone who studies the effect of cutting out these few words will see that the Chief Secretary will have more unanimity with regard to his Bill than at present. The effect of my proposal will be that no money under this particular Land Bill will be given to the Congested Districts Board. Everyone knows that under the Bill new powers are to be given to the Board, and the Board is to be reconstructed in a way not considered satisfactory to those who take an interest in the matter. If the Chief Secretary will only leave out these words the problem he will have to face will be very much simpler. I could not allow this opportunity to pass without entering an energetic protest against the advance of any further money to the Congested Districts Board, who have been fairly and squarely treated in the past. Every shilling which goes to them is taken away from the total amount granted by this Resolution to the settling up of the vast arrears with which the right hon. Gentleman has to deal, and it seems to me, instead of trying to carry out the spirit of the old Act or of the present Bill, he is deliberately putting blocks in his way by constituting a Department of a most novel and dangerous nature, and entrusting it with unlimited funds under this Resolution. Let him keep that money and deal with the vast arrears which are already in the archives of the Land Commissioners before reconstituting the Department and creating what I think would be a very serious economic situation in Ireland.
§ Mr. DILLON
I really think the speech to which we have just listened is so char- 791 acteristic of the spirit with which the Bill has been received in certain quarters that I do not like going to a Division without expressing the view of the Nationalist party with rgard to it. The hon. Member says the Government should keep this money, and use it for the purpose of getting rid of the arrears, or, in other words, that the poor people in the congested districts in the West part of Ireland, who were the means of getting the Bill of 1903 passed, and of inducing the House to consent to the extraordinary terms given to the landlord on which that Act was passed, and who were cheated out of any benefit under that Bill, should be again deprived of any benefit under this Bill. Now, because the Chief Secretary has come to their rescue and put in this Bill proposals which, in my opinion, form the best portion of the measure, proposals which are, for the first time, a serious effort to remove what has long been such a reproach to this country, the festering poverty of that region, he is met by an objection from Ulster to this part of the Bill. They talk about separating it into two Bills. That is what they tried to do last autumn, and what we blocked them in doing. They want to separate the Bill and get all the money squeezed out of the Exchequer for the benefit of the landlords, and these poor people in the West of Ireland may wait for an indefinite number of years for relief. I beg to tell the hon. Member he will not succeed in this policy. We are perfectly determined that the West of Ireland shall not be again swindled in the interests of the landlords. The West of Ireland and these poor districts commenced the land war. There would have been no chance of land purchase if it had not been for the fight these poor peasants made. They have been cheated and left in the cold, and Gentlemen from Ulster want to repeat the operation. I speak for one of the poor districts in the West of Ireland, and I beg to tell them and their landlord clients that they will not succeed on this occasion. If the Western tenants are not going to get a share of the benefits there will be no Bill for the landlords. They may dismiss that idea from their minds and from the minds of our Noble allies across the way. The Western tenants must get a look in; if they do not, the Irish landlords will have to wait.
§ Mr. HUGH BARRIE
The speech to which we have just listened is eminently consistent, coming from the lips of one of 792 the leading Members of the Nationalist party, who has always been the most eloquent voice heard from that party in opposition to all the Land Purchase Acts.
§ Mr. BARRIE
I was reading the Debates of this House in connection with the Purchase Act of 1881, and in the course of those Debates the hon. Member justified his opposition on the ground that if Ireland came under the benefits of a Land Act of that kind it would be in a worse condition than before.
§ Mr. DILLON
I have listened to the hon. Member, whose ignorance of Irish affairs has astonished me on more than one occasion. I was lying in Kilmainham Gaol during the whole time the Land Act of 1881 was under discussion.
§ Mr. BARRIE
I withdraw, of course, the statement, as I am bound to do. I have no desire to misrepresent the hon. Gentleman. Our opposition to this part of the Bill is based on the claim we make on behalf of the tenants of the other parts of Ireland who have bought their farms, and who have been delayed in the payment of them. We say it is unfair and a gross breach of faith that tens of thousands of these tenant farmers should be kept out of their money by large and liberal grants to be given to the congested districts. The Chief Secretary will not dispute that under this Bill one million pounds per annum is to be earmarked for the congested districts.
§ Mr. BARRIE
We say that until the serious arrears, £52,000,000 in extent, are dealt with by the Treasury, this problem, which we all agree will have to be faced, must stand over. We say that the farmers who are law-abiding subjects are bound to have preferential treatment at the hands of this House, and we hope they will get it. If they do not get it from this House we can only say that a great injustice will be done, and I am bound to say I agreed with my colleague when he suggested that if this portion of the Bill is adhered to, the fate of the Bill in another place will be seriously jeopardised.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
For the reasons I have already given in reply to the Amendment we have just disposed of, it will be utterly impossible, notwithstanding the threats of the hon. Gentleman, to listen to this proposal.